Saturday, January 30, 2010

the same old line

standing in amazement :  tim baier's photo of mount gee, arkaroola wilderness sanctuary - link to the full-sized image on flickr

Submissions of 'Seeking a Balance', the state government's mining access blueprint for the far-northern Flinder Ranges, closed yesterday.

Sadly, the state's Environment Minister, Jay Weatherill, continues to roll out the Labor party line, defending their fait accompli position of accepting without debate mining industry access to one of the state's premier wild areas - famous across the world, perhaps, but unfortunate enough to be sited on a small portion of this state's veritable ocean of Uranium -

"We are providing a greater level of protection for this beautiful part of South Australia but also having regarded the fact that, for decades, it's been the subject of exploration and there are mining interests that want to continue to consider those options, so that's the balance we're seeking to strike." (ABC online 29/01/10)

I'll translate: 'Miners want to "consider their options", so despite this being the most pristine wild area remaining unprotected in the Flinders Ranges we're going to see to it that they can continue to have access and ignore their having the run of the rest of the state!'

This from the man who is supposed to be the ultimate defender of the state's environment! (As to the notion that protections are being increased, see a Class A confusion.)

I've observed in the past that minerals minister Paul Holloway was effectively acting as the de facto environment minister for the 90+% of the state the mining industry has access to; now, it seems, the portfolio-swap is occurring in reverse!

As to the central absurdity of claiming that it's somehow reasonable to 'balance' access in this small section of the northern Flinders without regard to the dramatic imbalance between mining access and conservation that prevails across the state, I think state Greens MLC Mark Parnell's submission summed up the situation elegantly;

Seeking a Balance is surprisingly low on detail, poorly argued and artificially limited in its scope. It also starts off from an entirely wrong premise.

So little of South Australia is protected from mining and mineral exploration. Yet this document purports to suggest we should be ‘balancing’ the needs of mining and conservation in one of the few remaining and most highly prized wilderness sanctuaries left.

Instead, I argue that if we are truly ‘seeking a balance’ between mining and conservation in South Australia, all of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary should be off-limits to mining activity. This would ‘balance’ the virtually ubiquitous open access for mining in every other part of the State.

Even if we lower our gaze to just the Northern Flinders Ranges, this document has deliberately carved out a very small part of a much, much larger region. The focus falls entirely on the North-Eastern corner of the Ranges, yet there are other areas of significant biological and cultural value south of Nepabunna and north of Parachilna that contradict this artificial limitation.

Is it because these areas, like the areas afforded lower protection in Seeking a Balance, coincide with areas of higher mineral prospectivity?

Another deeply concerning aspect is the (apparent) complete ignorance of the previous protections over the area, in particular the Class A zones.

Throughout, I am left with the strong impression that this document has been deliberately designed to facilitate mining activity within the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary.

Even the language of ‘access’ zones rather than ‘protection’ zones implies a mind set that is focused on facilitating mining access.

I strongly urge you to scrap any pretence of ‘balance’ and instead protect the whole of the Arkaroola Wilderness sanctuary from mining activity.

By the way, while Primary Industries had announced the closing date for submissions on Seeking a Balance was the 'end of the month', the department for the environment had it as COB on Friday the 29th of January. So, I understand, straggler submissions will still be accepted over the weekend! Could this be yours?


Friday, January 22, 2010

The Tiger in the Atheneum

The Tiger in the Atheneum - link to image on flickr

Once upon a time students were taught rhetoric, not just as a means of developing proficiency in oratory, but in order to help them to learn to examine the structure of arguments - and to detect illegitimate ones!

However, it's hard to believe our society could function if the young were to be trained in any form of intellectual self-defence. Who would believe that some new 'essential' gizmo might make them sexy and happy, or that it makes sense to mount a TV that uses as much electricity as a refrigerator on their wall in order to be submerged in anodyne pap and still more gaudy imprecations to spend? Our economy might grind to a halt!

The Advertising and PR industries intrinsically necessary to creating a hyper-consumer culture have, in turn, brought about the final triumph of relativism; your argument is only as a good as your marketing department's budget; and a thing is now generally accepted as functionally 'true' if a sufficient number of people can be brought to believe that it is.

Actual truth is virtually irrelevant - and a belief in its centrality is almost 'quaint', if not 'elitist'! Proof is not the issue: polling is what counts.

The consequences of hyper-consumption and the belief that it raises no intractable problems if most people can be persuaded to think it doesn't are already far-reaching and may well ultimately prove disastrous. But already we can scan the globe in our minds' eye and see localised disasters - or disasters in the making - a-plenty.

the mammalian extinction capital of the world

This virtual review inevitably brings us to South Australia - 'the mammalian extinction capital of the world'(1) - and considering the future of this state brings us in turn to the northern Flinders, to Arkaroola, and to the concept of 'Seeking a Balance'.

'Balance' is a word that, like 'essential', has undergone a radical transformation at the hands of what I'll call PR Revisionism.

Australians are routinely told we can 'balance' the 'needs' of, say, Coorong pelicans and massive cotton consortiums thousands of miles upstream. Of giant timber corporations and some unfortunate small mammal nesting in a tree-hollow in a logging coupe. And we can consider this without once pausing to note the grotesque imbalance, the utter lopsidedness that created the problems in the first place!

The trick works because in this magical world everything and everybody alike - the rich and the poor, the media-savvy and the mute - is now a potential 'stakeholder', and all conflicts are now fair contests between equals on neutral ground, don't'cha know?

This might even be alluring were it not utter nonsense!

tigers in pall mall

The Tiger in the Atheneum - link to image on flickrThe legacy of British colonialism makes our culture particularly susceptible to this kind of argument.

Consider the colonial archetype - the 'pukka sahib', trusty Winchester in hand, hunting tigers for 'sport' (with only his wits, several native bearers, and the income from the family estate in Berkshire to support him.) Here, our hypothetical Roger of the Raj would tell us, is 'balance' in the raw - the very stuff of nature; a noble clash between equals! Mano a tigro!

I'd concede this might be strangely 'true' if tigers had any capacity to turn up in Pall Mall clubs and Knightsbridge drawing rooms to inflict grievous damage on these 'sportsmen' in their natural domains!

But clearly - and, dare I say? sadly - this is impossible. The tiger is part of the living natural world; his domain is always what is invaded, what is contested. This is so obvious it's become 'natural', invisible; we're so immersed we cannot even notice it anymore.

But that's hardly where the imbalance and absurdity ends! The tiger is not consulted as to whether, for him, the 'game' - as in 'big game' - is worth the risk. The tiger cannot give consent. Does anyone imagine for a moment that if a tiger had an opportunity to appreciate what was truly happening it would choose to take part in such a 'sporting' contest?

Perhaps for a man-eater there might be some real incentive in the form of a meal - but consider; other prey does not spit bullets - but apart from that our hypothetical big cat would surely think something along the lines of 'My life is put at considerable risk with no gain accruing to me whatsoever. You may kill or maim me at a considerable distance; I cannot hope to do the same to you. You don't even wish to eat me, which, while I might not like it, I could at least respect. Be off with you, bizarre, violent and inedible creature!'

no wallabies in the air-conditioning ducts

So, let's return our focus elsewhere in what was once the Empire on which the sun hadn't the temerity to set.

There sits the nature of Arkaroola 'waiting' - which, of course, it never does, but we can anticipate on its behalf - for culture, in the form of diamond drills, 'dozers and giant declines, to invade it. Oh, there's been a few scouting parties in the past - and some persistent trouble with browsing exotic ungulates - but this is the 'real deal', the 'big one'.

This is a strictly one-way transaction, the reverse - as in our absurd tiger in Pall Mall - simply cannot occur. No mining company or state bureaucracy need fear; Yellow-footed Rock Wallabies will not lay retaliatory claim to their city offices or attempt to seek shelter in their air-conditioning ducts!

No, as is only proper, the dozers will burst in on a nature minding its own business, and because we are 'civilised' a few concessions will properly be wrung out on its behalf. Invading and not invading are now equivalent acts - the invasion may well do enduring harm to the landscape, but we must consider an 'equal' harm that might befall shareholders should it not take place!

'Balance' has been achieved! The aggressor has vanished! History has vanished! Context has vanished! Even Nature's intrinsic title to its own territory has gone; what was once a self-sustaining landscape is now magically transformed into a 'level playing field', populated by 'stakeholders'. Conflicts have been replaced by negotiations leading to 'compromises'.

Compromise - Balance's best friend: this is where we return to the realm of rhetoric. (And thanks must go here to the learned Mike B for his contributions!)

2+2=5, and we have the numbers to prove it!

In his (now out-of-print) 'Straight and Crooked Thinking' British logician RH Thouless describes, as one of the '38 dishonest tricks' he identifies as being frequently used in order to win arguments, the logical fallacy of "the recommendation of a position because it is the mean between two extremes."

And one of the relatively few things that Neoliberal academic Dr. Madsen Pirie and I would agree on is that "Where one view is correct, there is no rule that it will be found by taking the average or mean of all views expressed."(2)

To take an absurd, but easily-grasped example: 'I believe 2+2=4 while my neighbour believes the sum to be 6. We have achieved a reasonable compromise and now concur that the result is 5.'

Pirie believes this flaw is distinctively British.

"[It] appeals to that upper class English feeling that any kind of enthusiasm is a mark of bad manners or bad breeding. One shouldn't be too keen. It helps to explain why none of them are particularly good at anything, and accounts for their steady, but moderate, decline."(3)

Sadly, I think Pirie has underestimated the extent to which the continual praising of a 'middle ground' that lies between the 'extremes' has become a mainstay of the 'reasonable' mass-media - and even talkback's more egregious ratbaggeries!

This notion has, in turn, colonised the minds of much of the population who see themselves as 'middle class' - a great many people, including much of what is actually the working class - throughout the domains of the old Empire.

'Everyone' - that is, the amorphous 'everyone' that everyone 'respectable' alludes to - now thinks the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Everything outside of the centre is extreme, and proponents of views that stray far from the centre are 'extremists'.

(In fact, much of Public Relations now consists of identifying the client as occupying precisely this 'neutral territory', whether they be an oil-spilling Petroleum MegaCorporation or a Billionaire Corporate-raider cum would-be President!)

But, as Pirie notes regarding the 'the sum is 4' and 'the sum is 6' camps described above, some 'reasonable' consensus-seeker might be "correct to describe them as extremists, but incorrect to suppose this proves them wrong."(4)

don't drink the Kool-Aid!

The Americans have a wonderful expression of personal independence of thought from contemporary groupthink - evolving from an unassuming beverage's supposed role in that spectacular modern tragedy of cultism; Jonestown's mass 'Revolutionary suicide'(5) -

"I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid on that one."

A commentator might proudly note that he or she, for one, was not 'drinking the Kool-Aid' on Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction, for example, or the inherent virtue of the unregulated 'free trade' in financial derivatives we're all currently paying the price for.

In our own small world of troubles I suggest we don't swallow it either.

A balance does not have to be sought. Mining's claim on the Wilderness Sanctuary is not rendered legitimate merely because it is not illegal, some say they stand to make a lot of money out of it, and/or because to date no-one has gotten around to putting land that clearly merits it into a National Park (not that even this would mean the industry couldn't lay claim to it - see the posts immediately below this one!).

We don't have to consent to allowing the mining industry into Arkaroola, and limit ourselves to a set-piece debate on the precise form its intrusion might take, because we're herded into some notion that to do otherwise would be 'unreasonable'; 'unbalanced'.

The most important balance in Arkaroola is what exists there now - the natural balance. This is already sufficiently under seige - historic grazing impacts, feral animals, drought, climate-change - without anyone bringing in the really heavy equipment!

The previous posts have identified the extent to which the mining industry already largely has the run of the state - if it's serious about being 'green' let it retire from this field gracefully!


(1)Dr Rob Morrison - many other citations

(2)Madsen Pirie: How to Win Every Argument: the Use and Abuse of Logic. P 158.

(3)Pirie: ibid.

(4)Pirie: ibid. Note that even if I believe the answer to be 3 and my neighbour 5 the consensus position is only correct by chance - the result is most certainly not proved by the process, and to believe it is proved is to abandon rationality entirely!

(5)The 'Jonestown Massacre' of the members of the 'People's Temple Argricultural Project' took place in Guyana in 1978 -


Friday, January 15, 2010

seeking a balance - the missing maps! 2 - the flinders

This is collection number 2 in series of maps that I'd argue should have been included in the South Australian Government's 'Seeking a Balance - Conservation and resource use in the northern Flinders Ranges.

Part one covered the whole state, and provided the overall context - now let's look specifically at the Flinders Ranges -

flinders ranges 1 - no access parks and 'areas excluded' - link to image on flickr

As with the previous set we're doing this in stages, the fully-protected, no mining access 'single proclamation' reserves are marked in dark green - that's, from the top, the Vulkathunha / Gammon Ranges and Flinders Ranges National Parks, the Dutchman's Stern and (on the coast) Winniowie Conservation Parks, a bit over half of the Mount Remarkable National Park, and the Telowie Gorge Conservation Park.

(Click the image to go to the Flickr site for larger versions of each image and considerably more detail)

And, in the red corner, the 'Areas Excluded from the Mining Act' - firstly up top the Leigh Creek Coalfield - which is, you may have noted a mine, a coal mine, and a very big one at that! If you're a South Aussie and you've not switched to renewable power yet this is what largely does the magic for you when you flick the light switch! And it's status as an 'Area Excluded' from mining is, um, debateable.

Not debateable - and a living testament to a Ministerial power not often used - is the Warren Gorge above the Dutchman's Stern CP and Quorn, excluded 'to prevent further mining in a scenic area'. Hoorah! Now, Warren is very pretty and I'm glad it's preserved, but it's not a patch on Arkaroola either aesthetically or in biodiversity importance terms.

Again, as with the previous maps, otherwise the remainder of the area of the region is available to the mining and petroleum industry.

Deep breath - here come the 'joint-proclamation', mining industry accessible parks -

flinders ranges 2 - no access and restricted access parks - link to image on flickr

A splash of light green. Again, consistent with the state as a whole, it's a considerably greater area than the dark green, fully-protected reserves. Lake Frome Conservation Park lies to the east, Lake Torrens National Park to the west. Track down the map to all of Mount Brown CP south of Quorn, the rest of Mount Remarkable NP - does anyone really imagine the public would tolerate a significant mining program in Mount Remarkable, by the way? - and that funny little widely-separated extension of Mount Remarkable below The Bluff east of Port Pirie.

Yes, I missed one. That's because I think it's worth noting that the Ediacara Conservation Park - east of Lake Torrens and west of Beltana - set aside specifically to preserve a unique set of fossils of global heritage significance, is a joint-proclamation - and so accessible by the mining industry! It also has a separate 'restricted access' status as a 'fossil reserve'. But what does this actually mean - is it theoretically mineable, or not? At any rate, it's currently covered in leases - see below.

I'll also note some absences in passing - no protection for spectacular Mount Chambers Gorge between the Flinders Ranges NP and Lake Frome, nor for the Parachilna Gorge west of Blinman, nor Patawarta Hill, nor the Devil's Peak, nor the Bendleby Ranges. Etcetera; I'll leave you to name your own favourite other, 'non-Parky' bits of the Flinders. Then keep an eye on them as we turn on the lease mapping layers -

flinders ranges 3 - all parks + mineral leases - link to image on flickr

Do I really need to make further comment? The cross-hatched red bits that just appeared are 'production tenements' i.e places where mining is approved to or can actually occur- notably Heathgate's Beverley Uranium deposits adjacent to the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, which lies north of the Vulkathunha / Gammons Park, but you can't see it for reasons I'll explain below.

It only remains to add the Petroleum industry component -

flinders ranges 4 - all parks + mineral and petroleum leases - link to image on flickr

Wow, now we have the Petroleum Exploration encroaching on the Mawson Plateau too! Can anyone really defend this kind of thing? And if you're going to say 'it's only an arbitrary lease boundary, they wouldn't actually do it' why not embrace the opportunity to formalise that 'excluded' status and have me pipe down for a while?

Lastly, let's have a look at the actual area that Seeking a Balance focuses on, now that we've actually provided the context that SaB very clearly lacks -

detail : northern flinders - SaB map area and management zones - link to image on flickr

The overall area is roughly the same as that shown in the context mapping in the SaB document, and the red inset rectangle represents the area that is targetted for its specific proposed Access Zones; these are focussed mainly on the Arkaroola region.

The Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary - like the other Flinders Ranges features I've 'pointed out' (or can't!) above - is not visible here because that's the way successive state governments have chosen to render it in mining industry terms!

What can we conclude from all this?

i heart the mining industry?

Did you see the movie 'I Heart Huckabees'? Despite its being an obvious satire, I thought it made one serious point rather well. (And no, I can't find the clip on YouTube! Sing out if you know better...)

The fictional environmental organisation that its protagonist was the head of presented a fictional television advertisement I thought summed up the problem with 'balancing' transactions between natural and human demands nicely.

Start with the main character centre-screen announcing a conflict between commercial/industrial 'development' and natural values in a remnant natural region, announce 'Well, let's make a compromise - we'll [meaning development proponents] just take half!'; half the TV screen blacks out.

The figure sidesteps to be visible in that half, announces a new development/conservation conflict over the remaining area, and another 'balanced' 50/50 compromise; now the top half of the half of the screen that was still visible blacks out. Overall 3/4 of the screen is now black.

The main character stoops to get his head into remaining visible quarter, indicates yet another conflict over this area, proposes the same 'balanced' solution; 7/8ths now black... You get the idea!

Now, we've already reached a state where most of the natural communities in the southern section of the state have been driven into tiny pockets by the 'Europeanising' process inherent in settlement. High-quality natural communities now occupy a tiny fraction of their original extent, and an even tinier fraction of the area of the state. To then frame these pockets as the venue for some sort of 'reasonable compromise' between conservation and yet more disturbance, as satirised by the movie's commercial, is not only inherently absurd, it's 'globally' absurd before the process has even begun! That is what publishing these maps is intended to demonstrate.

The very concept of 'seeking a balance' in the northern Flinders implies that some sort of an 'all else being equal' state might prevail between conservation and mining access elsewhere in the state - and this very, very far from being the case.

Now, best practice mining and exploration is very important, and it's great that this has had government and industry support. But the thriving mining industry in this state, if it wishes to fully lay claim to the mantle of environmental responsibility, should accept with good grace that there are areas that are too precious to mine. I call on it to make a start right here in Arkaroola.

In fact, I'd argue that both the industry, and the state government, stand to benefit overall by embracing the concept as part of their own commitment to best-practice, and by beginning a good faith process of relinquishing claims to our unique, high-value remnant natural legacy.

on a technical note

All these maps were taken from Primary Industries and Resources SA's excellent South Australian Resource Information Geoserver. (Ironically, I may be SARIG's biggest fan!)

Images © PIRSA SARIG geoserver 2010 -


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

crocodile tears!

The croc has temporarily returned to its enclosure!

It's a bit like the pandas, isn't it? Please feel free peruse the rest of the blog while you're waiting...


Sunday, January 10, 2010

seeking a balance - the missing maps! the whole state

These are the maps that should have been included in the South Australian Government's 'Seeking a Balance - Conservation and resource use in the northern Flinders Ranges'!

The very concept of 'seeking a balance' in the northern Flinders implies that some sort of an 'all else being equal' state might prevail between conservation and mining elsewhere in the state - and this is so far from being the case that the notion is rendered absurd! In South Australia, conservation is on a hiding to nothing where it confronts the mining industry!

Take, for instance, Map 1 below -

whole state 1 - no access parks + 'areas excluded' - link to image on flickr

Here's the whole of the state, showing those areas that are actually excluded from mining industry access. The fully-protected, no mining access 'single proclamation' reserves - that's the Wilderness Protection Areas and some National and Conservation Parks - are marked in 2 shades of dark green, and the 'Areas excluded from the Mining Act' - such as the Leigh Creek Coalfield and the City of Adelaide - are marked in red. (Click the image to go to the Flickr site for larger versions of each image and considerably more detail)

Otherwise the remainder of the area of the state is available to the mining and petroleum industry.

You might be about to be surprised, if not shocked. What follows is a map which contains the same details shown in the first map, with the addition of the mining-industry accessible. 'joint proclamation' Reserves - that's the remainder of the National and Conservation Parks, and the Regional Reserves -

whole state 2 - no access and restricted access parks - link to image on flickr

That's right, more than 3/4 of the land area of the reserve system of South Australia is open to the mining industry! All Reserves constitute a little over 20% of the state by area, so if 3/4 of these are mineable, and the remaining 'Areas excluded from the Mining Act' are not large - as can clearly be seen - what follows is that the mining industry has access to more than 90% of the state!

Now, in the 'joint-proclamation' parks access is 'restricted', and there are other restrictions placed on the mining and petroleum industries when dealing with, say, Aboriginal Land and the Woomera Prohibited Area. The industry may well attempt to point to this - in fact, some wring their hands and claim to be tragically inhibited in showering us with the benefits they are doubtlessly only-too-keen to bestow upon us; but let's just have a look at the extent to which their style is actually being cramped, shall we?

whole state 3 - all parks + mineral leases - link to image on flickr

Whoah! - bright, isn't it? We've now added the Mineral Leases - that's the Mineral Exploration Leases in blue, and the Mineral Exploration Lease Applications in pink. There are production tenements as well, but they're hard to see at this scale. (A reminder, click each image to see a lot more detail on Flickr)

What you can pick out at this scale is that the Gawler Ranges National Park and the northern section of the adjacent Pinkawillinie Conservation Park, Tallaringa Conservation Park, Lakes Gairdner, Torrens, and Frome, and the Yellabinna, Strzelecki and Innamincka Regional Reserves have now largely been subsumed. Oh, and the Witjira National Park on the northern border is entirely covered.

Did you know Mount Remarkable National Park is largely open to the mining industry, by the way? I thought not.

But that's not the whole story - we haven't looked at the petroleum industry yet! -

whole state 4 - all parks + mineral and petroleum leases - link to image on flickr

Well, isn't that enough to warm a shareholder's heart? Goodbye Simpson Desert Regional Reserve and the remainder of the Innamincka RR. Petroleum Exploration Leases, Exploration Lease Applications, Production Tenements... it certainly makes for a colourful show! If you want the complete details I've included a copy of the Legend as part of this set of images on Flickr.

(You can also go there to scroll through any of these images at a larger scale - Seeking a Balance - the Missing Maps [I recommend the slideshow option - button upper right] - and also to get a foretaste of my next posting, which will deal specifically with the Flinders Ranges and the area surrounding the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary - the target of Seeking a Balance.

However, my point is simple. There is no balance between the mining industry and conservation is South Australia. The industry is winning hands-down.

The state government cannot selectively pick a section of the northern Flinders Ranges - one of the few remaining semi-arid mountain ecosystems in Australia in good (and up to excellent) condition at that! - and claim to play an 'even handed' game, as though the industry didn't already have the run of the state. As though such fragile and complex mountain ecosystems weren't the exception rather than the rule in the broad, flat inlands of South Australia. And as if they were well preserved elsewhere and weren't embattled enough already (goats, climate change etc.) This is not just absurd, it's offensive!

NEXT POST - Applying the same focus to the Flinders Ranges.

All these maps were taken from Primary Industries and Resources SA's excellent South Australian Resource information Geoserver. (Ironically, I may be SARIG's biggest fan!)

Images © PIRSA SARIG geoserver 2010 -